TIGERS 15, BLUE WAVES 11
The celebration will have to wait a few more days.
On the cusp of reaching the playoffs for the first time in program history, the Riverhead Blue Waves got a taste of what will await them in the Class A playoffs Thursday with a matchup against Northport. The Tigers, behind a dominant faceoff specialist in Austin Henningsen and the playmaking of Brian Cannon, rode a bruising first half to a 15-11 victory at Riverhead, denying the Blue Waves what likely could have been a playoff-clinching win.
The Blue Waves came into the day 11th in power rankings in Division I. The top 13 teams advance into the postseason.
A victory Saturday at home on Senior Night against North Babylon will likely do it for the Blue Waves on the penultimate game of the regular season.
“If we win Saturday it should secure us a spot to make some history,” said Riverhead coach Victor Guadagnino. “We’ve been waiting for it for a long time.”
The Tigers, who came into the day third in Division I, overwhelmed the Blue Waves from the start. The Blue Waves allowed a season-high 14 goals in the first half as the Tigers took a 10-goal lead into halftime.
The Blue Waves (9-5, 7-5 Division I) hadn’t allowed more than six goals in a half since losing to Ward Melville March 27, which was the only other lopsided loss so far this season.
The 14 goals was a season high in a half for Northport.
“Whenever you’re playing a top team, don’t stop playing,” Guadagnino said. “Play with pride and learn.”
The Blue Waves did that in the second half, closing the deficit enough to where the Tigers had to insert a few starters back into the game for the final three minutes to assure the victory. Northport emptied the bench to start the second half and the Blue Waves went to work.
Northport (10-2, 9-2 D-I) scored the first goal of the second half for its biggest lead before the Blue Waves scored the final seven goals.
“I don’t think any spectator watching this would say Riverhead quit today,” Guadagnino said.
Henningsen, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore, made winning face-offs look effortless in the first half. The Tigers won 17 of 19 faceoffs, giving them a huge advantage in possessions.
The Blue Waves are far from the only team Henningsen has given fits. As one of the top faceoff specialists on Long Island, Henningsen has already committed to the University of Maryland.
“He’s super fast,” Guadagnino said. “He was doing things I can’t even compute in my brain.”
When the Tigers got possession, the duo of Cannon and Sean Gilroy picked apart the Blue Waves’ defense. Cannon scored a season-high seven goals — all in the first half — and Gilroy picked up five assists, which was also a season high.
Riverhead goalkeeper Alex Panagakos faced a barrage of quick shots off some pin-point passing. He still managed to make 10 saves.
The Blue Waves got within three at the end of the first quarter when Ryan Bitzer broke away from a double team in transition to find Austin Fitzpatrick for a goal.
“[Panagakos] had a couple big saves early on,” Guadagnino said. “I thought he was going to give us that momentum again when we made it 6-3. He had two or three really key saves.”
The Tigers scored the first three goals of the second quarter to double their lead. Cannon scored twice on Gilroy assists 28 seconds apart.
Dan Czelatka led Riverhead with four goals, three of which came in the second half. His four goals matched his season high set April 3 against Copiague.
“Dan’s been playing very well for us,” Guadagnino said.
Bitzer and Ryan Hubbard both had a pair of goals for Riverhead. Bitzer scored on a strange play in the third quarter when a pass deflected off a Northport stick directly into the goal. The goal of the game for Northport belonged to Nick DeCeglia, who scored on a slick over-the-shoulder shot to make it 10-4.
Saturday promises to be a special day for Riverhead, win or lose. The Lax for a Smile fundraiser will feature a full slate of lacrosse action the entire day, capped by the Blue Waves’ varsity game against North Babylon at 4 p.m. Boys and girls youth teams will start the day with a bevy of games.
Proceeds all go to Michael Hubbard, a Riverhead teen who suffered brain damage in the aftermath of being badly burned by an exploding gel candle in his backyard in May 2011.